Pope Francis is urging Chinese Catholics to make gestures of reconciliation that show they are in full communion with the Holy See.

Francis made the comments during his Wednesday general audience, amid what appears to be another stall in the Vatican's longstanding efforts to reach a deal with Beijing over the appointment of bishops.

Francis led thousands of people in prayer that Chinese Catholics can live their faith serenely "and can make gestures of fraternity, harmony and reconciliation in full communion" with the pope.

China's government bars Catholics from having contact with the Vatican and allows worship only in government-monitored churches. Millions remain loyal to the pope and worship in secret, underground churches, whose priests and parishioners are frequently detained and harassed.